[asa] Rejoinder 7C from Timaeus: Miscellaneous Short Replies

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Oct 21 2008 - 15:39:58 EDT

Timaeus will now close out his part of this exchange, at least for the time being (perhaps permanently), with two final posts. Here is the first.



I have to wind down the discussion now, but I’d like to make brief replies to a few people, so they will know that I didn’t ignore their last words.

To John Burgeson:

You wrote:

“Specifically -- the third claim, "that Darwinian mechanisms alone (or
more broadly, chance evolutionary mechanisms alone) could never have
produced complex integrated systems such as those possessed by living
beings." I'd have to qualify that sentance with a "perhaps not, "or a
"very probably not" in place of your "could never." Absolutes always
arouse the skeptic in me.”

Agreed. In my enthusiasm, I overstated my point.

You wrote:

“No, I heard that many years ago, from one Phillip Johnson, at the
Austin conference on Feb 20-23, 1997. See my report of that excellent
conference, published in ORIGINS and DESIGN, at
www.burgy.50megs.com/ntseoad.htm. I challenged him on it when he said
the change would come quickly -- within a year or two. At that time I
was still studying the ID movement; I guess that process continues. I
really appreciate the efforts you are making here.”

OK, so Phillip Johnson scooped me on the prediction, but I would have said that he was overly optimistic about the time frame. Probably a bit of culture war rhetoric on his part there! I agree rather with the person who said: scientific revolutions never succeed because the revolutionaries convince the old guard of the errors of their ways; they succeed when the old guard dies of old age, and the young revolutionaries inherit the custody of the scientific world. I think the old guard of evolutionary biologists, and of biologists in general, didn’t grow up in an era where biological thinking was being rapidly integrated with mathematical, engineering and computer science thinking, and therefore (with of course some exceptions) they find design theory hard to accommodate within their overall vision of biology. (When I was in first year “Nat Sci”, the only Math course that Biology majors had to take was first-year Calculus, and computer science courses were still don!
 e with IBM punch cards, and were hardly even integrated well into engineering programs yet, let alone biology programs.) But in an age where a good number of undergraduate biologists will have taken elementary computer programming even in high school, and where more and more life science undergraduates will be integrating math/engineering/computing insights into their studies, that is going to change.

Finally, thanks for your kind words about my efforts.

To John Walley:

You wrote:

“Granted if I wrote intelligent program A and then subjected to random mutations of the code which would almost surely be deleterious it would not result in intelligent program B. But no one who accepts TE is suggesting this.
“If however as a programmer, I wrote supernaturally intelligent program A, that had the embedded design to anticipate changes (even random ones) and use those changes to possibly alter my program A's behavior, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that I may wind up with intelligent program B, without knowing what the supernatural intelligence was that was embedded, which we can't know.
“But you can't deny that as a programmer I have the ability to write a program that modifies its behavior at runtime based on external inupts. We see this everyday.
“This is what TE is saying and the strong ID crowd refuses to see it.”

This criticism misses the target, and in fact confirms my argument. My complaint to Iain Strachan was not against TE but against “pure Darwinism” as I have defined it. Your response to my answer is in effect: (1) to agree with me that purely Darwinian evolution is highly implausible, since it does depend extensively on luck to “sublimate” constant deleterious mutations into something useful; (2) to argue that program A might well have been designed from the beginning to be able to transform itself into another program. But for the latter possibility to be real, not only the original functions of program A but also its adaptive abilities would have to have been intelligently designed. If this is what you mean by TE, then your version of TE accepts intelligent design of a front-loaded kind, and there is no fundamental theoretical barrier between ID and TE.

To Dr. Venema:

All right, I exaggerated the perfection of knowledge in chemistry and physics, but that was more due to careless writing than incorrect thinking. Chemists may not know literally every step in every reaction they work with, but there are many complex reactions for which they do understand every step, and many others for which they understand a high proportion of the steps. This is proved by the success of complex chemical processes in industry, for example. And the fact that nuclear theory was on substantially the right track was surely established by the prediction of, followed rapidly by the achievement of, fission reactors, fission bombs, and fusion bombs. Our knowledge of the mathematical and physical relationships between electricity and magnetism is in very good shape, as our power grids and appliances show. Generally speaking, in large areas of chemistry and physics, we’ve achieved a very high degree of understanding, yielding high degrees of prediction and cont!
 rol. Biology is simply not at this level yet. And I’m not blaming the life scientists for that, because cells and living creatures are more complicated than atoms and electricity by a long shot. Biologists and biochemists can be justly proud of the huge strides they’ve taken since the discovery of DNA. But based on what they say themselves, there are just huge areas that are far from understood (what all that “unused” DNA is there for; the relative importance of DNA and developmental processes in determining the phenotype, etc.) And as long as these areas are far from understood, speculating about evolutionary mechanisms will be very presumptuous. If you don’t fully understand the causes of inheritance or how a body is formed when you have the creature right there in your lab, how are you going to extrapolate back 500 million years to hypothetical creatures whose DNA you can’t examine, and predict how they must have, might have, or could have evolved?

A famous scholar of Gnosticism, Hans Jonas, once wrote that, until all the newly discovered Gnostic manuscripts have been fully translated and digested, scholars of ancient religion should hold their tongues, and their pens, before writing any more learned historical treatises on the evolution of Gnosticism. I would say the same about biological evolution. When basic biology is in ferment as it is today, evolutionary theory must as a consequence be inherently unstable and unreliable. I think life scientists over the next 20-30 years should concentrate on describing and understanding cells, genomes, development, ecology, etc., as they find them today, and should defer extensive evolutionary speculation until they know with much greater accuracy how the machines they are dealing with - cells, genomes, proteins, bodily systems, etc. - work!

Regarding Lenski’s work, I have heard of it, and from what I have heard, you are certainly right to recommend it to me as the sort of proof I am looking for, since, from what I gather, Lenski claims to have “caught evolution in action for the first time”, or something to that effect. (I’ll pass by, with only a wry smile, the fact that Darwinists have been claiming for years that evolutionary theory is “as reliable as Newtonian physics”, which could hardly have been true up until now, if Lenski has only just now “caught evolution in the act” for the first time.) I have not read Lenski’s work, and so will not pretend to have any idea of its strengths and weaknesses. I do know that its relevance has been contested. Without taking sides, I’ll simply refer everyone here to Behe’s response to Lenski’s work:

and to the numerous discussions of Lenski’s work on Uncommon Descent:


The people here who know biology well can read both sides, and make up their minds. As for me, I can’t enter into the discussion in the near future, but I agree that Lenski’s work is pertinent in the way that Dr. Venema says.

As for how long I should doubt evolution, well, I would say that I wouldn’t insist on “full knowledge” of the evolution of literally everything, but I would like to see a few classic integrated complex organs or systems pretty well explained (say, 75% explained) in evolutionary terms: the eye, the flagellum, the avian lung, etc. If the Darwinian model could explain even one of these things with thoroughness, that would count greatly in its favour, and if it could explain half a dozen such things, then it is probable that it could explain everything else. But I’m waiting for even one nearly complete explanation from the realm of multicellular creatures.

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Received on Tue Oct 21 15:40:12 2008

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